Illustrator Interview – Olivier Tallec

photo O.Tallec3Apart from greatly admiring his work, my impulse to interview Olivier was three-fold: firstly, my author -illustrator friend Julie Rowan-Zoch urged me to, secondly Olivier is published in the US by one of my favorite publishers (who are right here in Brooklyn) Enchanted Lion Press, and thirdly, European illustrators (and authors) have different sensibilities and styles to US ones and I think it is important to keep highlighting their work.

Olivier Tallec has illustrated over 50 children’s books in France, many of which have been translated into English, including Big Wolf & Little Wolf, Waterloo & Trafalgar and Gus is a Fish.

As I did in my interview with Christine Davenier, I have kept the question in English only and just translated Olivier’s answers from French into English. I hope this works for the majority of blog readers. 🙂

[JM] Author/illustrator or illustrator? If the former do you begin with the text or the images?

[OT] Les deux. Je commence par une idée, puis très souvent par l’image. Ce qui est difficile c’est de trouver ce décalage texte-image. Ne pas se répéter dans le texte et dans l’image. Il doit y avoir des choses qui sont dans le texte qui ne sont pas dans l’image et inversement – travailler sur l’avant ou sur l’après.

Both. I start with an idea and then very often an image follows. What is difficult is to find this text/image lag. Not to repeat through the art what is there in the text. There needs to be things that are in the text but not the illustrations and vice versa – work on the instances just before or just after.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[OT] J’ai beaucoup changé d’endroits de vie quand j’étais enfant, j’habites aujourd’hui à Paris. Je ne sais pas si ça influence ou non mon travail.

I moved around a lot as a child and now I live in Paris. I don’t know whether this influences my work or not.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings as an illustrator?

[OT] J’ai toujours dessiné. Même plus tard, au college , au lycée, je n’étais pas un cancre mais je me suis pas mal ennuyé en cours, du coup le dessin me donnait l’impression de moins perdre mon temps.

Ensuite j’ai eu la chance de pouvoir faire des études de dessin et je suis allé voir les éditeurs un par un avec les quelques dessins que j’avais, sous le bras. Un premier éditeur m’a confié un texte à illustrer puis un second etc… mais au départ je ne connaissais pas vraiment l’édition jeunesse.

I have always drawn. Even later in middle school and high school, I wasn’t a dunce but I was pretty bored in class, so suddenly doodling and sketching gave me the feeling of not wasting my time.

Afterwards I was fortunate to study art and one by one I went to see publishers with the handful of illustrations I had under my arm. One of these publishers then entrusted me with someone’s text to illustrated, then a second…but really at the beginning I didn’t know much about picture book art.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium?

[OT] J’aime passer d’albums de jeunesse à des dessins plus adultes. Je crois que j’ai vraiment autant de plaisir à faire les deux. Je ne me pose de toute façon pas la question si je travaille pour des enfant s ou des adultes. Je dessine parce que j’ai envie de dessiner telle ou telle chose.

I like moving between children’s books and drawings for adults. I really think both give me the same amount of pleasure. I certainly never ask myself the question of whether I work for children or adults. I draw because I want to draw this or that.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to often?

[OT] Je ne sais pas. Je crois que j’aime bien travailler sur des thèmes contemporains : le pouvoir, la guerre, la ville, l’urbain, la nature. Des thèmes qui parlent aux enfant aujourd’hui?

I don’t know. I think I really like to work on contemporary themes: power, war, the city, urban life, nature. Themes that speak to kids today?

[JM] What’s your studio like?

[OT] Une grande pièce très lumineuse qui donne sur une place. Je travaille sur une vieille table à dessin en bois.

A large, very well lit room which overlooks a square. I work on an old wooden artist’s table.

STUDIO

IMG_2257

IMG_2262

[JM] Please can you share with us one or two pieces from your WIP and your process?

[OT] J’ai sorti il y a un mois “bonne Journée ” au éditions Rue de Sèvres, c’est un livre totalement adulte.

Je travaille aujourd’hui sur la suite de ce livre. Je commence aussi une série chez Actes Sud, qui est un peu la suite de Quiquoiqui, il y aura beaucoup de personnages qui vivent dans un univers très blanc et qui se mettent à dessiner le monde dans lequel ils vont évoluer. Jusqu’au moment où ce monde va un peu leur échapper.

BonneJournée_Couv3

A month ago my book, HAVE A NICE DAY, was published by  Editions Rue de Sèvres, it’s for adults.

I am now working on its sequel. I am also working on a series for Actes Sud, which is sort of a sequel for QUIQUOIQUI (Whowhatwho). Here there will be lots of characters who live in a very white world and who are going to start illustrating the world in which they will evolve. Right up to the point where this world will sort of escape them. 

Here are some examples from some of my books:

GLPL arrivée

Arrival – Big Wolf Little Wolf

GLPLPL

plage/beach

plage/beach

Grand Loup Petit Loup #3

Grand Loup Petit Loup/ Big Wolf Little Wolf #3

Little Big

Little Big

WEBCOUV-louis-1er-ok

Louis 1st, King of the Sheep

waterloo[JM One of my favorites of your books is WATERLOO and TRAFALGAR (which I especially love because I am British but having lived thirteen years in France feel a bit of both). Can you describe how this idea developed?

[OT] C’est un livre un peu particulier, c’est un livre sans texte. Il y a une histoire mais pas de mots. Je me suis longtemps posé la question de la narration sans passer par le texte. Comment raconte-on une histoire si on n’a pas de mot et que le dessin devient de l’écriture?

J’ai pensé ce livre un peu comme un petit film d’animation. En découpant l’histoire en saynètes et en enlevant celles qui étaient en trop (pour voir jusqu’à quel moment on ne comprend plus l’histoire si il y a trop ou pas assez de dessins).

It’s a little unusual and is a wordless picture book. There is a story but no words. I mulled over for a long time the task of narration without using text. How does one tell a story if one has no words but the illustrations become the writing?

I thought about this book a little like a small animated film. Cutting the story down into skits and then removing those that seemed superfluous (to see at which point one starts to lose the thread of the story and if there are enough drawings or not).

scar

[JM] LA CROUTE/THE SCAR is not a picture book for all children, and starts with the words,  “Mummy died this morning”. How did this difficult them influence your choices as an illustrator?

[OT] Si je crois justement que c’est pour tous les enfants. Il y a des moments pour aborder ce sujet mais je crois justement que c’est un sujet qu’on a trop tendance à occulter.

Il y a peu de livres qui traitent de ce sujet et en particulier avec des humains. Le texte de Charlotte Moundlic m’intéressait parce qu’il était justement très direct et il ne passait pas par le biais d’un animal ou d’un grand-parent.

J’ai trouvé très rapidement la façon dont je voulais l’illustrer, avec peu de couleurs mais des couleurs très fortes (rouge) et toujours penser à ce décalage texte-image. Ne pas être redondant. Ne pas être mièvre.

If I am correct, this is a book for all children. There are moments to broach this subject but I think exactly that this is a subject that we have too much a tendency to overlook.

There are very few picture books that deal with this subject especially with humans. Charlotte Moundlic’s text interested me exactly because it is so direct and didn’t pass through the angle of an animal or a grandparent.

I found the way I wanted to illustrate this very quickly, with very few colors, but the colors I would use would be very strong (red) and always thinking about this complementation of text-art. Not being redundant. Not being cutesy.

[JM] Olivier, I stand rightly corrected. The SCAR is for all children at the right moment and I have had a lively discussion on Fb this past month about how more willing publishers are to publish these important topics in Europe than in the US! Now to change the subject, tell me, what do you have hanging on your apartment walls?

[OT] Des photos. J’achète régulièrement des photos.

Il y a aussi une vieille maquette de bateau en métal que j’ai accroché au mûr,

Et puis sur un mur des cartes anciennes , parce que ce sont de très belles cartes mais aussi des endroits que j’aime bien (il y a une vieille carte de l’Inde du XIXe, une carte de Tokyo (Edo) au XIXe, et une carte du XVIIIe de l’île de Pâques.

Photos. I regularly buy photos.

There’s also an old model boat in metal that I have attached to a wall.

Then on another wall I have old maps because they are beautiful maps and also because they are places I love (there’s an old map of India in the 19th century, one of Tokyo (Edo) also from the 19th century, and one from the 18th century of Easter Island.

I LOVE old maps too and grew up surrounded by them!

[JM] OK, Four Fun Ones To Finish                                                                                 One word to describe yourself

[OT] ça il faudrait demander à d’autres personnes de le faire… That you’ll need to ask others to do

[JM] If you could live anywhere in the world for six months, where would that be?

[OT] Il ya plusieurs endroits où j’aimerai passer six mois. Peut être New-York. Je trouve qu’il y a une énergie incroyable dans cette ville.

Tokyo aussi. Ou alors un endroit complètement à la campagne (une maison perdue au fond d’un fjord en pleine forêt).

There are several different places I would love to spend six months. Maybe New York. I find there is an amazing energy in this city.

Tokyo as well. Or else somewhere in the heart of the countryside (a hidden home at the end of a fjord in the middle of a forest).

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[OT] Rien… une peau de vache qui me sert de tapis, parce qu’une vraie vache c’était trop compliqué…

Nothing… a cowhide which I use as a rung because a real cow would be too complicated!

[JM] Which is your favorite park in the world?

[OT] Pareil, il y en a plusieurs.                                                                                                     J’aime bien le Mont Royal à Montréal, parce qu’il domine un peu la ville.                       J’aime aussi le parc Ueno à Tokyo (il y a un zoo, des temples…)

The same, there are several.                                                                                                       I like the Mont Royal in Montreal a lot because it dominates the city a little. I also like the Uneo Park in Tokyo (there’s a zoo, temples…)

[JM] Olivier, it was an honor to interview you. I know that my readers can read more about you on your blog, http://www.oliviertallec.fr, and if they aren’t familiar with your work. I encourage them to check in their local libraries or indie bookstores for those that have already been translated into English. Je te souhaite une bonne continuation avec tes projets et la prochaine fois que tu es à new York, peut-être on peut prendre un verde ensemble?! Mon bar préféré à Brooklyn s’appelle Le Bar Tabac! 🙂

Please follow and like us:

Related posts:

This entry was posted in France, Illustrators, Interview, picture book and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Olivier Tallec

  1. It took me extra long to read this because I tried to see how much I can figure out in the French before I read your translation. I liked that it forced my brain to work extra hard. 😉 But, I didn’t like discovering how little I remember French, so much less with each passing year. I am so literal in my naivette too. For example, I read “la maison perdue” as the lost house rather than the hidden house. LOL!

    I love Olivier’s answers and his work! Thanks for another awesome interview, Joanna!

  2. Robin Newman says:

    Super entretien! Olivier, est-ce que vous trouvez qu’il y’a des sujets qui sont preferes par les editeurs français ou americains?

  3. What a wonderful start to my day! Had a good laugh visualizing a cow in Olivier’s studio (esp after Hazel’s post on estate ponies yesterday!). I’m currently reading about NC Wyeth and he too chose to illustrate a moment leading up to a key scene – very interesting thought from an author-illustrator perspective. I’m really looking forward to the WIPs, and after seeing that my rusty French has a hint of hope, I think I can go ahead and order one that hasn’t yet been translated. Thanks so much for presenting the interview in both languages and for touching on the differences in sensiblities between European and American markets. There is so much we can learn from each other! Oh, and MAPS! Yeah!

    • Joanna says:

      I only learnt about Wyeth since moving here to the US! I say go ahead and order one or two of Olivier’s books in French!

  4. Thanks for this great interview with a talented artist whose modesty struck me when I was lucky enough to meet him a few years back when living in France. SO true about how much we can learn from different approaches to what children can cope with. For a book such as Scar, the key is also the adult reader who chooses to read the book to the pre-reader they know. Having worked directly for many years French publishers alongside US and UK ones it strikes me that are also economic reasons that back up book culture and help explain why more daring books might get published in France. One support is the French national children’s book fair itself in Montreuil, Paris starting today (November 26- December 2) Aside from it being the most inspiring and illustrator-rich of any fair I have ever been too – including Bologna – it gets a lot of media coverage and is a hive for selling books to librarians (who have bigger budgets to buy new books than in the UK for example) and teachers who look for specific topics, as well as to parents and children who line up waiting and watching us sign. And we have to illustrate – not just sign our books to each child. Result – a lot of interest and a lot of books sold – which helps support creative initiatives too.

  5. Yes, it took me a while to read this because I was trying to see if I could figure out what he was saying — I do very well with Spanish, but French is hard. So I enjoyed the challenge. Glad you included both.
    Can’t imagine a storybook written for adults. European publishers must be more liberal? — find that with Canadian publishers. I find his process and work captivating. He’s such a talented illustrator and writer. I’m glad you introduced him. Exceptional interview.

    • Joanna says:

      Thank you, Pat. Bonne Journee is written for adults but I think there are some picture books that appeal to both adults and children alike.

  6. @Robin Newman

    Thank you for your question Robin. I
    think there are some differences of course between us and french publishers. I do not know the american market as well as the french market, so it is quite difficult to say but may be french books are more “abstract”. In the subject, texts but probably in art work too.

  7. Catherine says:

    Great interview! I really enjoyed reading it in French but got tired and rusty three quarters through 😉 I love the vibrant red with that little boy. I like your style!

  8. Joanna says:

    Glad you enjoyed the interview and the French!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.